Sermons

Summary: A message preached in honour of the sacrifice of Canadians who won the victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“Blessed be the LORD, my rock,

who trains my hands for war,

and my fingers for battle;

he is my steadfast love and my fortress,

my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield and he in whom I take refuge,

who subdues peoples under me.

“O LORD, what is man that you regard him,

or the son of man that you think of him?

Man is like a breath;

his days are like a passing shadow.

“Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down!

Touch the mountains so that they smoke!

Flash forth the lightning and scatter them;

send out your arrows and rout them!

Stretch out your hand from on high;

rescue me and deliver me from the many waters,

from the hand of foreigners,

whose mouths speak lies

and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.

“I will sing a new song to you, O God;

upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,

who gives victory to kings,

who rescues David his servant from the cruel sword.

Rescue me and deliver me

from the hand of foreigners,

whose mouths speak lies

and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” [1]

Easter Sunday, 1917, was observed on April 8th. Easter Monday that year was not observed by four divisions of Canadian troops stationed opposite the German Sixth Army. For weeks, Canadian artillery had intermittently bombarded German lines, aiming particularly to destroy the barbed wire strung in front of German defensive positions. British Engineers had tunnelled for days through the soft clay to extend tunnels beneath German fortifications. Canadian troops, varying in size from a squad to companies, had conducted raids against the German lines each night. These raids had resulted in the capture of numerous prisoners, generating considerable valuable intelligence. Simultaneously, German troops were raiding Canadian lines, capturing prisoners and gaining intelligence of their own. Troops knew that something momentous was about to take place, though they couldn’t know where or when.

Vimy Ridge had fallen under German control in October, 1914. From that time forward, it had been the scene of bitter battles. The French Tenth Army attempted to dislodge the Germans in May of 1915 and again in September of that same year, suffering 150,000 casualties in those efforts. The British XVII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, relieved the French Tenth Army in February of 1916. Under the command of Byng were numerous British troops and the Canadian Corps, consisting of four Canadian divisions (including 97,184 Canadians). If the war would be brought to a conclusion, it was necessary that the German fortifications on Vimy Ridge would need to be taken. Accordingly, planning for the attack that would dislodge the Germans began in March of 1917.

Canadian troops under the command of British officers had distinguished themselves in earlier battles, including the Second Battle of Ypres. That conflict saw the first time that a former colonial force (the 1st Canadian Division) defeated a European power (the German Empire) on European soil. This battle marked the first time that the German forces employed gas. Despite the novel means of assault, the Canadians held their ground in the face of the gas attack, losing over five thousand men. Canadian troops had also been involved in the Second Battle of Artois, the Third Battle of Artois and the Battle of the Somme. Now, Canadian troops would be called upon to attack an impenetrable line of German defences known as Vimy Ridge.

It had been the desire of British and Canadian leaders to initiate the attack against the German lines on Easter Sunday. The French, however, objected, so the assaults would be delayed until Easter Money, allowing the French to observe Easter. The attack began at 0530 on April 9, 1917, transforming Easter Monday in “Bloody Easter” for the Canadians. In wind, sleet and snow, an initial wave of more than 15,000 Canadians stormed the ridge, capturing most of the German positions by the afternoon of the first day. Three more days of intense fighting followed before the highest features of the ridge, “Hill 145” and the “Pimple,” were captured.

The battle, a defining moment for Canada, cost almost 4,000 Canadian lives and over 7,000 wounded. The horror of Vimy was recorded by the 2nd Division’s 6th Brigade (the “Iron Sixth,” composed of western Canadians) as they made their way into the fight early on the morning of the opening day. “Wounded men (were) sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in (water-filled) craters, the field swarming with stretcher-bearers trying to keep up with the casualties.” [2] The Canadians were marked by “countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145 … was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions.” [3]

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